On a mission to help Morningside


BRATTLEBORO -- Wait, wait, Peter Sagal, don't tell me ... you lost a bet, right?

I mean why else would you be venturing 1,000 miles from home to come to Brattleboro for one night in April?

"You should never bet anything with Tom Bodett that involves cabinetry," confirmed Sagal, the affable host of NPR's popular quiz show "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me," who will be in Brattleboro on Saturday, April 19, to host The Hatch's third Storytellers on a Mission fundraising event at the Latchis Theatre.

In truth, Sagal comes to Brattleboro willingly, answering the call from his frequent "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" guest Bodett to help out a worthy local cause, in this case, Morningside Shelter, which is hoping to raise $35,000 in honor of its 35th anniversary of helping the homeless in this community.

"If Tom Bodett told me to jump off a cliff, I would probably do it. He's just so dreamy," said Sagal. "All I can say is I'm glad he's using his smoldering sexiness for good."

That he is, Peter. That he is.

On April 19, the curtain rises at 7:30 p.m., to feature four nationally renowned storytellers who will tell hilarious stories to raise money for a good cause. It's a formula organizers of The Hatch have used in two previous storytelling events at the Latchis, both of which raised more than $20,000 for designated causes -- and were plenty of fun, to boot.

"What's really exciting is that people get what we're trying to do philanthropically. I love the shows, and I love the mission," said Rich Korson, who along with Bodett, Rita Ramirez and Elizabeth Catlin, founded The Hatch in 2013. "I love sitting back and hearing (the performers) talk and hearing them tell their stories, and I like to laugh."

And laugh you will. The April 19 lineup of storytellers includes Cindy Pierce, Elna Baker, Peter Aguero and Ian Chillag, all of whom have performed on critically acclaimed stages that include The Moth, National Public Radio shows, Comedy Central program and more.

Elna Baker is a writer and comedic storyteller who has appeared on The Moth Radio Hour, This American Life, BBC Radio 4, All Things Considered, WTF with Marc Maron, Studio 360, The Joy Behar Show and is featured in the book "The Moth: 50 True Stories." Her memoir, "The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance," was published by Penguin, earning four stars in People Magazine and the 2010 AML award for best humor writing.

Cindy Pierce is a comic storyteller, college speaker, innkeeper, wife and mom. She performs a variety of comedy shows as well as educational shows for parents, college students and teenagers. She is the co-author of "Finding the Doorbell: Sexual Satisfaction for the Long Haul." She won the Best Amateur Storyteller at the Nantucket Film Festival in 2012 performing alongside Adam Wade, Tom Bodett and Mike Birbiglia. She and her husband Bruce live in Etna, N.H., where they own and run Pierce's Inn.

Returning for his second Hatch event, Peter Aguero was born and raised in South Jersey and now resides with his wife in Queens, N.Y. He is a Moth GrandSLAM Champion, host of Moth StorySLAMs and an instructor for the MothSHOP Community Education Program. He is also the lead singer of The BTK Band, New York City's hardest-drinking improvised storytelling rock band. His story about "finding his true love" dazzled the packed house at the inaugural Hatch event.

Taking a turn on the live end of a microphone for Storytellers is Ian Chillag, producer for Wait Wait Don't Tell Me! A humorist who has produced, written and voiced for various radio and television shows, and a Moth veteran, Chillag also co-hosts the popular podcast How to do Everything.

The Hatch's Storytellers on a Mission events not only provide great entertainment for great causes, they also tap into the surging popular interest in storytelling, a wave of authentic, human connection to counterbalance the superficial hyper-connectedness of our digital times.

"It's a reaction to the way most of the culture is now -- very quick and very short and frankly kind of ephemeral," said Sagal. "Instead of 140 characters, it's one character standing in front of you for 20 minutes."

Tom Bodett's smoldering qualities aside, Sagal is only too glad to do what he can to help such a worthy cause as Morningside.

"One of the things, in general, I've been doing is trying to leverage whatever I have to benefit people," he said.

Two days after The Hatch event in Brattleboro, Sagal will be in Boston, running in the Boston Marathon as a partner for a blind runner through the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind's Team With a Vision program. Sagal, an avid marathoner, did that for the first time last year, and as a result was near the finish line when the bombs exploded.

"We were about 100 yards away from the bombs when they went off. Even though we were so close, I couldn't tell what the hell had just happened," said Sagal, who never hesitated about returning to the marathon to help another blind runner this year. "Everybody determined that we were going to come back, and we were going to run this race again. There's just a sense of defiance. I think it's going to be amazing. I think it's going to be a hugely celebratory day."

In a way, Sagal said, doing a fundraiser for a grassroots, local social service organization like Morningside Shelter is akin to serving as a companion for a blind runner at the marathon -- both offer a chance to make a difference in a direct, human way.

"The distance between what we're going to be doing and who we're benefiting is small," said Sagal. "We're getting down from statistics to individuals."

And that, said Morningside Shelter Executive Director Joshua Davis, is exactly what he hopes to accomplish through the Storytellers on a Mission event.

"Morningside for a number of years has kind of flown under the radar. I've really wanted to raise the profile of the organization," said Davis. "To have The Hatch and Peter Sagal is huge for us."

Since 1979, Morningside has provided a temporary home to thousands of people who need stable housing -- and to do so in as dignified a way as possible. In addition, Morningside provides intensive case management to connect its clients with the services they need and to help them transition to long-term housing. At its shelter, Morningside provides beds for 29 people of all ages. Currently, there is a waiting list of 30 households. Last year, more than 120 people spent time at Morningside, and the average length of stay was 70 days, Davis said.

"There are large issues with homelessness in southern Vermont. The fact of the matter is we do see our needs increasing," said Davis.

The face of homelessness is different than people think. More than a third of Morningside's clients are children under age 18. Many of the others have had lives that make you think: "There but for the grace of God, go I."

Case in point is current Morningside resident Tom Trower. He grew up in a stable, rather typical family in Hamden, Conn., and was raised, he said, to have good values that include service to the community. He was an Eagle Scout and went on to a career in law enforcement in Wallingford, Conn., with service in the National Guard and volunteering as a Boy Scout leader rounding out his time. But in a few short years, his social drinking spiraled out of control and his troubles mounted.

"I saw things as a police officer that people shouldn't normally see," he said.

His marriage and career fell apart, his drinking and other problems overwhelmed him. After many years on what he called a "roller coaster" he arrived in Brattleboro 14 months ago determined to get his life under control.

"This is a recovery community. ... My faith has been restored tremendously," he said.

An active member of First Baptist Church and volunteer with the Strolling of the Heifers, Trower secured a place in Morningside and is grateful.

"The thing that makes the biggest difference in getting assistance from Morningside compared to other agencies in town is that the staff works as a team to network improvements in the resident's life. To change and ensure that the circumstances that resulted in that person getting to Morningside hopefully won't occur again is the ultimate goal," wrote Trower in an e-mail. "The staff, be it office support, counselors, case managers or volunteers, are genuine in their belief that with time and effort on both sides (residents and staff) that being homeless is not the end of the road. In fact sometimes a new beginning."

As many of Morningside's residents are recovering from various traumatic experiences, mental health issues or recovering from substance abuse, the shelter's "Design for Dignity" project aims to provide a safe space that is calming and therapeutic, while encouraging thriving, self-determination and new beginnings. The money raised by the Hatch Storytellers event will help fund this project.

Morningside has set a goal of $35,000 to be raised on April 19 in commemoration of its 35 years of work in the community.

"It's an ambitious goal for the event, but we like to set lofty goals," said Davis.

Tickets to Storytellers on a Mission are $60 for front orchestra, $40 for rear orchestra and $25 for balcony, and can be purchased CatamountArts.org. As the lineup of storytellers has been known to tell late-night stories with late-night content, this event is not suitable for children. The event begins at 7:30 p.m.

A limited number of Premium Ticket packages, which include two front orchestra seats, two tickets to an after party with Peter Sagal and a thank you acknowledgement in the event program, will be available for $1,000. Additionally, 35 35th Anniversary Sponsorship packages, including two rear orchestra tickets and special acknowledgement in the event program, are available to supporters for $350. For these premium packages, contact Libby Bennett at 802-257-0066, ext. 101.

Vermont Public Radio is once again media sponsor for Storytellers on a Mission. VPR will broadcast an edited version of the program at a later date, with introductions and commentary from Bodett. Supporters of the event include Foard Panel and Farnum Cellulose. To connect to Hatch events, visit HatchVT.org, Facebook.com/HatchVT and Twitter/HatchVT.


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